November 18 – 23, 2014
Book Presentation: Committee of One

Patricia Holt CoverFirst presentation and book signing
by author Patricia Martin Holt
Tuesday, November 18, 7 pm
Madison Central Library, Room 301
201 W Mifflin St, Madison, WI [Map]

The Wisconsin Book Festival, in partnership with the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, presents Patricia Holt to discuss her book Committee of One. Free and open to the public.

Second presentation and book signing
by author Patricia Martin Holt
Sunday, November 23, 12:45 pm – 1:45pm
First Unitarian Society
900 University Bay Drive
Madison, WI [Map]

Sponsored by the First Unitarian Society and the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. Free and open to the public.

“When I married a retired hydrologist, I had no idea how our travels to the Middle East would change my perspective. Initially interested in the fine crafts of the area, I was led to Leila Wahbeh. The day I met her was the day my life changed forever.

Her story unfolds with her family’s flight from Jerusalem to Egypt in 1947 to avoid the terrors of the war with Israel, and their return four years later to find they had lost everything. Despite suffering terrible hardships and deprivations, Leila finishes school and marries a doctor. All goes well until the 1967 War. Her husband, because he renders aid to war victims, is deported, leaving Leila and their four children in Jerusalem as pawns for his good behavior and hers. Despite the probability of her own imprisonment, with circumstances weighed against her, she continues her crusade for the poor.

Leila moves mountains of red tape in her efforts to transform the helpless into the helpful. In Committee of One, you’ll meet, as I did during our stays, some of the people whose dignity and pride she has single-handedly restored: Um Rafila, born in a cave as her mother fled her village in 1948; Um X who can’t read or write but whose ten children will graduate from college; Um Ghassan, whose piecework provides the medical care needed by her dying pre-school daughter; and Mustafa, a young engineer, who is jailed for preventing renewed garbage dumping at the first cleared site for Leila’s new sanitation center in Baqa’a Camp. With unflagging energy and donations of money and materials, Leila helps her people to become self-sufficient. One family survives, then 100. As those 100 educated families reach out to hundreds more, thousands of families cross the bridges built by a Committee of One.”

Continue reading

Israel bans Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert from Gaza

BBC News, 14 November 2014

Dr Mads Gilbert at work in Gaza in 2009Dr Gilbert, pictured here in 2009, has been a frequent visitor to Gaza. (Getty Images)

A Norwegian doctor has been permanently banned from entering the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government.

Dr Mads Gilbert says he was stopped trying to cross into Gaza in October. He called the move “totally unacceptable”.

Israel cited security reasons for imposing the ban.

Dr Gilbert has treated patients in Gaza for more than a decade. He worked at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City during the 50-day summer conflict.

He told the BBC he had never broken any Israeli rules during his spells working in Gaza.

But he suggested that his open reporting of the medical situation in the territory had angered the Israeli authorities.

“The fundamental reason for the ill health of the population in Gaza is of course the siege and the bombing,” he said.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Nahshon, described Dr Gilbert as a “Jekyll and Hyde” figure, hiding behind a cloak of being a humanitarian doctor.

He said an investigation was under way into Dr Gilbert and that the decision would be reviewed.

The Norwegian foreign ministry has said it will challenge the ban.

In July, Dr Gilbert was one of the co-signatories in a strongly-worded letter denouncing Israeli action in Gaza, published in the medical journal, the Lancet.

He also described scenes in the Shifa Hospital this summer as the worst he had ever seen.

November 7-8, 2014
Voices for Peace and Justice in Palestine

Searching for Peace
The Capital City Hues
October 30, 2014

From Barbara Olson and The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project:

Do you feel baffled and disturbed by what the major media variously describe as "an age-old religious conflict" or "the endless cycle of violence" between Israel and Palestine? Did the pictures of the terrible bloodshed, destruction and suffering in Gaza last summer leave you wondering what’s really going on there and what role our government is playing and why?

Do you wish that there could be a peaceful and just solution for all the people of the region? Do you wonder what you could do to help?

You have a chance to explore these and many other questions at the upcoming Voices for Peace and Justice in the Holy Land conference, Friday and Saturday, November 7 and 8 at the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon Street, Madison.

The conference will examine the role of the U.S. in the Palestine/Israel conflict, featuring the stories, political viewpoints and theological perspectives of Christian, Muslim, Jewish and secular scholars, writers and activists concerned with justice and peace for all people of the region. It is designed to educate, inspire and make connections and to galvanize advocacy for peaceful, just and creative solutions.

Distinguished plenary speakers and workshop leaders from the US and Palestine will address the current situation on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank, and explore the impacts of US foreign policy, the media and religion on the region’s struggle for justice.

Participants will have a chance to interact with others about relevant historical realities, discuss timely updates regarding facts on the ground, and explore creative responses such as fact-finding and witness tours, campus and church organizing, community education and humanitarian assistance, and peaceful strategies for change like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and public policy advocacy.

The conference also features two showings of the film Where Should the Birds Fly?, the first film about Gaza made by Palestinians living under Israel’s siege of this tiny enclave. The film itself breaks the blockade, since Gazans have never had the opportunity to make a full length, professional documentary of their reality. Film maker Fida Qishta, born and raised in Rafah, Gaza, will lead discussions of her film.

Friday night features a Palestinian dinner for paid conference participants. At 7:30 there will be a free cultural evening open to the public, with performances by Palestinian poet and spoken word artist Remi Kanazi and the Milwaukee Students for Justice in Palestine Debke folk dance troupe.

A beautiful traveling poster exhibit called “Boycott: The Art of Economic Activism” will be on display during the conference.  Created by the American Friends Service Committee, the exhibit features 59 posters from over 20 boycotts, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, United Farm Workers grape and lettuce boycotts, divestment from Apartheid South Africa, anti-sweatshop boycotts, the Palestinian call for BDS, and many others. It can be seen before the conference at The Crossing, 1127 University Avenue, with an opening program at 2 pm on Saturday, Nov. 1 and running through Thursday, Nov. 6.

The conference is sponsored by Friends of Sabeel-North America and UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine, along with a number of local churches and other community groups. The cultural evening is funded in part by Associated Students of Madison.

For more information on all aspects of the conference including speakers, workshops, schedule, sponsors and costs, plus the hours for the poster exhibit, visit https://fosnamadisonconference2014.wordpress.com/ or call 520-2039. You may pre-register on line or download a mail-in registration form at that website. Walk-ins for either or both days are accepted, however, you must be pre-registered
by Monday Nov. 3 in order to attend the dinner.

Nov 7-8, 2014
Friends of Sabeel of North America (FOSNA) Conference

The Madison Times, October 22, 2014

In a year when enduring images have been burned into our collective memories of the great loss of life and indescribable destruction that occurred in the Gaza a few short months ago, a landmark national conference is coming to Madison on Nov. 7-8 that seeks to chart the path to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

“Voices for Peace and Justice in the Holy Land,” is a two-day conference occurring at the UW-Madison’s Pyle Center that will examine the role of the United States in Palestine/Israel, at an event where participants can listen to voices not often heard in the quest for peace and justice in the Holy Land. Local organizers describe this as an opportunity to hear the stories and the political and theological perspectives of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and secular writers and activists concerned with justice and peace in Palestine/Israel.

The conference is sponsored on a national basis by the Friends of Sabeel of North America (FOSNA), as well as a variety of locally-based groups drawn from a diversity of social justice and religious traditions, and the UW-Madison chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. Distinguished plenary speakers from the US and Israel/Palestine will address the current situation on the ground in Gaza, in the West Bank, and for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and will explore the impact of US foreign policy, the media, and religion on the region’s struggle for justice.

The goal of the conference, organizers say, is to educate, inspire, and make connections to galvanize advocacy for justice in Palestine-Israel. In this sense, the gathering is seen as a place where the seeds of future action can be planted, and as the conference ends, the real work will be just beginning.

A Friday evening Palestinian Cultural Program is free and open to the public, and features Remi Kanazi, a spoken word artist, writer and activist, Also performing are the Milwaukee Students for Justice in Palestine Dance Troupe, featuring Debke folk dancing.

Journalist John Pilger writes,”Remi Kanazi’s poetry, full of defiance and longing, allows us to feel the power and pain of Palestine’s struggle.” Novelist John Berger adds, “You want to hear a voice which refuses to be silenced, and only such voices carry the deep truth about what’s happening these days… in Gaza or Iraq or East Jerusalem.”

The conference also features a free traveling 59-poster exhibition called “Boycott: The Art of Economic Activism”. It highlights more than 20 historical boycott movements from the 1950s to the present including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, United Farm Workers’ grape and lettuce boycott, divestment from South Africa to protest Apartheid, boycotts of corporations using sweatshops, the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and many others.

The conference begins at 12:30 pm on Friday, November 7th, and runs through 5pm on Saturday, November 8th. Friday’s events include a Palestinian dinner. Cost of the conference is $85 for both days, or $50 for a single day. Student rate is $25. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged, and is required by Nov. 3 for Friday’s dinner.

For more information including schedule, speakers, workshops, and to register on line or obtain a mail-in registration form, call (608) 520-2039 or visit https://fosnamadisonconference2014.wordpress.com

Oct 1 – Nov 26, 2014
Book group: Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine

Biweekly Wednesdays,
October 1 – November 26
“Palestine Reading Group”
The Lakefront on Langdon,
Memorial Union, UW-Madison [Map]
7 to 8:30 pm

The International Socialist Organization and Students for Justice in Palestine-Madison are hosting a discussion group on Ali Abunimah’s new book The Battle for Justice in Palestine. The first meeting will discuss the Preface and Chapter 1 (pg xi – pg 20). We will continue to meet biweekly Wednesdays @ 7pm until we finish the book.

  • “Efforts to achieve a “two-state solution” have finally collapsed; the struggle for justice in Palestine is at a crossroads. As Israel and its advocates lurch toward greater extremism, many ask where the struggle is headed. This book offers a clear analysis of this crossroads moment and looks forward with urgency down the path to a more hopeful future.”
    Ali Abunimah, The Battle for Justice in Palestine
  • “This is the best book on Palestine in the last decade. No existing book presents the staggering details and sophistication of analysis that Abunimah’s book offers.”
    Joseph Massad, Columbia University
  • “In The Battle for Justice in Palestine it is the voice of Ali Abunimah, fierce, wise – a warrior for justice and peace – someone whose large heart, one senses, beyond his calm, is constantly on fire. A pragmatist but also a poet. This is the book to read to understand the present bizarre and ongoing complexity of the Palestine/Israel tragedy.”
    Alice Walker
  • “With incisive style and scrupulous attention to documentation and detail, Ali Abunimah’s new book offers a complex portrait, from every angle, of the Palestinian struggle for justice today.”
    Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director, Jewish Voice for Peace
  • “A crucially needed dose of educated hope. This is what hits me from this fascinating amalgam of incisive journalism, analytic prose and intellectually compelling vision that emanates from many years of brilliant activism. Sailing effortlessly from the domestic to the global, from Johannesburg to Belfast and from Chicago to Tel Aviv, Ali Abunimah paints a lucid, accessible picture out of a complex web of racism, racialized oppression, and creative resistance. Abunimah does not give us hope; he helps us dig for it within us by meticulously laying out before us the facts, the trends, the challenges and the inspiring resistance to them.”
    Omar Barghouti, Palestinian human rights activist, author of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights
  • October 10, 2014
    Contested Land, Contested Memory with Author Jo Roberts

    Cover for Contested Land, Contested Memory

    Israel’s Jews and Arabs and the Ghosts of Catastrophe
    By Jo Roberts

    Friday, October 10
    JO ROBERTS will be reading from her critically acclaimed book
    Rainbow Bookstore Co-operative
    426 W. Gilman St, Madison
    7:00 pm [Map]

    NOMINATED for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize 2014

    1948: As Jewish refugees, survivors of the Holocaust, struggle toward the new State of Israel, Arab refugees are fleeing, many under duress. Sixty years later, the memory of trauma has shaped both peoples’ collective understanding of who they are.

    After a war, the victors write history. How was the story of the exiled Palestinians erased – from textbooks, maps, even the land? How do Jewish and Palestinian Israelis now engage with the histories of the Palestinian Nakba (“Catastrophe”) and the Holocaust, and how do these echo through the political and physical landscapes of their country?

    Vividly narrated, with extensive original interview material, Contested Land, Contested Memory examines how these tangled histories of suffering inform Jewish and Palestinian-Israeli lives today, and frame Israel’s possibilities for peace.

    Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders get off Israel bandwagon, for once

    Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, September 26, 2014

    The Senate is warning Palestinians against undertaking any “negative” unilateral actions re Israel at the United Nations, and look who isn’t signing on to the letter that AIPAC has endorsed: Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Folks have been pressing Warren and her staffers not to sign this letter – and she didn’t. Neither did Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Maybe the national publicity and pressure on these progressives over their Israel-Palestine positions moved them? Maybe they’re tacking ahead of 2016? Here are the 12 non-signers, from both parties:

    Bernard Sanders (I), Bob Corker (R), Elizabeth Warren (D), Harry Reid*, Jeff Sessions (R), John D. Rockefeller IV*, Lisa Murkowski (R), Patrick J. Leahy* (D), Rand Paul (R), Tammy Baldwin (D), Tom Coburn (R), Tom Harkin* (D).

    (*Majority leader/ senior committee chairs who don’t usually subscribe to these things)

    Is this the beginning of a Senate “refuser caucus”? We can only hope. A friend who emailed the office of one liberal northeastern senator who did sign the letter got back this note:

    Thank you for sharing your concerns with the Senator. I would like to share with you the J Street perspective on the letter if that helps.

    J Street supported the letter, right alongside AIPAC. Another sign of JStreet as “AIPAC Lite” giving liberal cover for the Israel lobby agenda.

    The text of the letter is up at New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte‘s site. It urges the State Department to keep Hamas from rebuilding its military capabilities and governing Gaza, and to prevent the Palestinian Authority from going to the International Criminal Court.

    Letter Presses Administration to Prevent Hamas from Rebuilding Military Capabilities and Calls for Gaza Demilitarization
    Sep 23, 2014
    Washington DC- Today, U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Bob Casey (D-PA), a member of the National Security Working Group, announced that they’ve led a letter signed by 88 senators to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the Administration to take steps to ensure that no assistance is diverted to Hamas, support the Palestinian Authority’s effort to govern in Gaza, and discourage Palestinian unilateral measures at the United Nations and International Criminal Court that bypass direct negotiations and undermine the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
    The Senators wrote, “As we look ahead to the next few months, we urge you to focus on three key objectives: (1) preventing Hamas from rebuilding its military capabilities; (2) enabling the Palestinian Authority to move toward becoming the Palestinian governing authority in Gaza; and (3) preventing negative developments at the UN General Assembly, UN Human Rights Council, and the International Criminal Court that could derail any prospects for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.”
    The full text of the Senators’ letter is below:
    September 23, 2014
    The Honorable John Kerry
    Secretary of State
    U.S. Department of State
    2201 C Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20520

    Dear Secretary Kerry,
    We were pleased to see that Hamas finally accepted an Egyptian cease-fire plan last month. Sadly, Hamas continued its attacks on Israel for weeks after Egypt’s initial proposal, leading to unnecessary and increased suffering in Gaza and Israel.
    As we look ahead to the next few months, we urge you to focus on three key objectives: (1) preventing Hamas from rebuilding its military capabilities; (2) enabling the Palestinian Authority to move toward becoming the Palestinian governing authority in Gaza; and (3) preventing negative developments at the UN General Assembly, UN Human Rights Council, and the International Criminal Court that could derail any prospects for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
    First, we fully support the urgent provision of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza. We must also condition reconstruction assistance on the establishment of a system to prevent Hamas from rearming and rebuilding its military capability. In the past, Hamas has diverted construction materials intended for civilian use to the construction of the tunnel networks that were used during this last conflict to smuggle weapons and attack Israelis. We must support Israeli and Egyptian efforts to implement strict, comprehensive controls so that no assistance is diverted to Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza. The international community has twice spent billions to rebuild Gaza, only to see Hamas transform economic assistance into the means of war. For the sake of Israelis and Palestinians alike, we cannot let this happen again. Ultimately, we must seek Gaza’s demilitarization.
    Second, we must support efforts to enable the Palestinian Authority to exercise real power in Gaza. Hamas has demonstrated conclusively both that it has no interest in peace with Israel and that it has no concern for the well-being of Gaza residents. Meanwhile, the West Bank has experienced periods of significant relative economic growth and stability, in part due to cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces there. All Palestinians deserve a government that will seek to advance their safety and prosperity-not use them as human shields. Real peace between Israelis and Palestinians will require a Palestinian partner that controls the West Bank and Gaza, is focused on economic development and stability in both areas, and will accept Gaza’s demilitarization. We must start this process now.
    Third, while we work with the Palestinian Authority to extend its effective jurisdiction to Gaza, we must work equally hard to ensure that Palestinian officials do not take further harmful steps at the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, or the International Criminal Court. The Palestinian Authority must avoid steps that would undermine the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We must let Palestinian Authority President Abbas know that America’s willingness to cooperate with him will continue to depend on his willingness to return to the negotiating table with the Government of Israel and avoid unilateral measures that bypass direct negotiations.
    We look forward to working with you on these critical matters, as our nation strives both to prevent another Hamas-instigated war and to create the conditions that will allow Israelis and Palestinians to move closer to peace.

    Sincerely,

    Kelly A. Ayotte
    Robert P. Casey, Jr.
    James M. Inhofe
    Richard Blumenthal
    Susan M. Collins
    Edward J. Markey
    Mike Crapo
    Joe Manchin III
    Pat Roberts
    Jeanne Shaheen
    Jeff Flake
    Tim Kaine
    David Vitter
    Michael F. Bennet
    John Boozman
    Kirsten Gillibrand
    John Thune
    Tim Johnson
    Jerry Moran
    Debbie Stabenow
    Roy Blunt
    Patty Murray
    John McCain
    Kay R. Hagan
    James E. Risch
    Mark Begich
    Marco Rubio
    Ron Wyden
    Patrick J. Toomey
    Barbara Boxer
    Dean Heller
    Benjamin L. Cardin
    John Barrasso
    Mark Udall
    Richard Burr
    Mazie K. Hirono
    Lindsey O. Graham
    Brian Schatz
    Mitch McConnell
    Amy Klobuchar
    Thad Cochran
    Heidi Heitkamp
    Deb Fischer
    Jon Tester
    John Cornyn
    Sherrod Brown
    Rob Portman
    Mark L. Pryor
    Michael B. Enzi
    Barbara A. Mikulski
    Mark Kirk
    Maria Cantwell
    Lamar Alexander
    Martin Heinrich
    Orrin G. Hatch
    Mary L. Landrieu
    Tim Scott
    Tom Udall
    Roger F. Wicker
    Tom Carper
    John Hoeven
    Charles E. Schumer
    Mike Lee
    Joe Donnelly
    Chuck Grassley
    Al Franken
    Ted Cruz
    Christopher A. Coons
    Johnny Isakson
    Sheldon Whitehouse
    Mike Johanns
    Cory Booker
    Ron Johnson
    Carl Levin
    Saxby Chambliss
    Bill Nelson
    Dan Coats
    Mark R. Warner
    Richard Shelby
    Angus S. King, Jr.
    Claire McCaskill
    John Walsh
    Richard J. Durbin
    Chris Murphy
    Robert Menendez
    Jack Reed
    Dianne Feinstein
    Jeff Merkley

    Michele Bahl: How can we be indifferent to suffering of children in Gaza?

    Michele Bahl, Cap Times, Sep 20, 2014

    Dear Editor: For three days, at the Barrymore Theater Sept. 12, Fighting Bob Fest Sept. 13 and at the Willy Street Fair Sept. 14, I stood with a large cardboard panel of horrific and gruesome pictures of children who were wounded and killed in Gaza in July by Israel’s brutal assault in which 2,200 people, the majority of them civilians, were killed by bombs. We in the Madison Rafah Sister City Project call it “The Wall of Shame: Pictures from the Gaza Assault.” Politicians, even progressive ones, will not talk about these pictures.

    During the 50 days of Israel’s bombardment on the people of Gaza, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved an additional $225 million to Israel fund their “Iron Dome” missile system. Their vote supported Israel’s massacre on the people of Gaza.

    During his speech at Fighting Bob Fest on Saturday, Chris Hedges, an author and former foreign correspondent of The New York Times, said this about Gaza: “I have stood over bodies, including the bodies of children, left behind by Israeli airstrikes and assaults. I have watched mothers and fathers cradle their dead and bloodied boys and girls in their arms, convulsed by an indescribable grief, shrieking in pitiful cries to an indifferent universe.”

    How can we be indifferent? How can we walk by pictures of wounded and dead children and not even look? During the three days I was out, there were a lot of people who did look though, especially children. It was children who got close, read the headlines and were visibly impacted. But so many adults just kept on walking by. But if we keep walking by, nothing will change. Israel will continue to get billions of dollars in U.S aid every year, and more innocent Gazans will be killed.

    Michele Bahl

    Madison

    Sep 25 – Nov 13, 2014
    The Joe Deane Memorial Series on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

    Madison Central Library, Rm. 104
    201 W. Mifflin

    Thurs. Sept. 25th 6:30 pm
    The Zionist Colonization, The British Colonial Regime, and the 1948 War and Founding of Israel

    Thurs. Oct. 30th 6:30 pm
    A Dispossessed People, the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Wars of 1956, 1967, and 1982, and Evolution of the Palestinian National Movement

    Thurs. Nov. 13th 6:30 pm
    Israeli Colonialism and Apartheid in the Occupied Territories, the U.S.-Israeli ‘Peace Process’, and the Current Impasse

    Part of the Origins and Development of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: the Joe Deane Memorial Series, facilitated by David Williams and Steve Wolvin. Co-sponsored by the Peregrine Forum, the Madison Infoshop Free Skool, and Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative. Info? #284-9082

    September 28, 2014
    DAVID ROVICS IN CONCERT

    With Clare Norelle
    Sunday, September 28, 4 – 6 pm
    The Brink Lounge, 701 E Washington Ave, Suite 105

    $10 at the door – proceeds benefit Gaza emergency relief and scholarships for children of Arcatao, El Salvador

    DAVID ROVICS grew up in a family of classical musicians and became an early fan of populist regimes. After busking full-time in the Boston subways, by the mid-90's he was traveling the world as a professional flat-picking rabble-rouser. Now living in Portland, Oregon he tours regularly on four continents, playing at cafes, pubs, universities, churches, union halls and protest rallies. He has appeared with a veritable who's whoof the left in two dozen countries, with his music featured on Democracy Now!, BBC, Al-Jazeera andother networks. The 200+ songs he makes available for free on the web have been downloaded more than a million times. Most importantly, he's really good. He’ll make you laugh, he’ll make you cry; he will make the revolution irresistible.

    CLARE NORELLE is a local performer who sings in several languages and tells stories from around the earth, connecting with people in many places and promoting a message of acceptance and appreciation of cultural diversity.

    Falasteen Habibti (Palestine My Love) – Love Songs for Palestine
    A new 21-song CD of nearly all David’s songs about Palestine, a portion of sales at the concert benefits the Independent Middle East Media Center. One to be given as a door prize!

    Co-sponsored by Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (Palestine), Madison-Arcatao Sister City Project (El Salvador), Wisconsin Network for Peace & Justice, Playgrounds for Palestine – Madison, Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom – Madison, and Colombia Support Network

    Palestinians in Gaza are still waiting for the siege to end

    Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 10 September 2014

    Destruction everywhere

    UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

    A new United Nations assessment published this week lays out the massive scope of the needs facing the nearly 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza following the “unprecedented” destruction wreaked by 51 days of Israeli bombing in July and August.

    Israel’s assault – which it dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” – left at least 2,133 Palestinians dead and more than eleven thousand injured. More than 100,000 are permanently homeless as some 13 percent of Gaza’s housing stock – 44,300 housing units – was affected by the attack, with five percent rendered completely uninhabitable.

    The UN report “Gaza Initial Rapid Assessment,” published by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), was conducted through August with the assistance of dozens of Palestinian and international aid agencies, organizations and experts.

    It indicates that almost everyone in every part of Gaza faces some urgent need for basic protection, healthcare and rehabilitation, housing, water, food security or education.

    The report came out the same day that the UN and the Palestinian Authority launched a $551 million emergency appeal to meet urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza.

    The assessment also identifies the need for “legal support to address some of these protection needs, including pursuing accountability for alleged violations of international law resulting in deaths and injuries, as well as destruction of property as a result of the military operation.”

    The siege is still the issue

    These findings underscore the urgency of the call made by Palestinians in Gaza and human rights and humanitarian groups insistently: reconstruction, recovery and a normal, dignified life are impossible unless the siege is lifted.

    There is a strong consensus in the international humanitarian aid industry that the siege must go.

    “Only a full opening of all crossings to people and goods, including exports will enable Palestinian civilians in Gaza to restore their economy and escape the poverty the blockade has entrenched,” Oxfam has said. “The international community must press Israel for the blockade to be fully lifted, rather than only eased.”

    And the International Committee of the Red Cross has long viewed the siege of Gaza as illegal collective punishment.

    But since the 26 August ceasefire, uncertainty and mystery continue to shroud the understandings regarding the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza reached by Israel and Palestinian resistance organizations.

    Although the ceasefire understandings were not made public, media reported that they “include opening all crossings to Gaza, allowing reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, allowing the entry of materials needed for reconstruction and permitting fishing for a distance of six to twelve nautical miles from shore.”

    The parties to the deal also agreed to return to Cairo within a month to resume negotiations on a long-term truce. Those discussions have yet to begin, but a Hamas official said they would start in mid-September.

    Little change at the crossings

    What we do know is that the Rafah crossing for people between Egypt and Gaza continues to operate at very reduced capacity, and the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza remains the only goods crossing open.

    Palestinian sources have told Gisha, an Israeli nonprofit organization that monitors and advocates for an end to the movement restrictions on Gaza, that there has been a slight easing of restrictions at Erez, the crossing for people between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

    Palestinian children wounded during the Israeli assault on Gaza wait for permission to cross into Egypt at the Rafah border crossing, 8 September. (Abed Rahim Khatib/APA images)

    But in a post on its website today, Gisha says that such “fragments of information, the result of understandings that brought Operation Protective Edge to an end, serve only to remind us that critical decisions are being kept hidden from the Israeli and Palestinian public.”

    Gisha points out that Erez, Kerem Shalom and Rafah “were technically ‘open’ before the fighting began, and, for the most part, while it was taking place.” Gisha explains (emphasis in original):

    It isn’t about opening the crossings – it’s about who and what can move through them and in which directions. The media reported that the quotas for travel through Erez Crossing would be increased, but failed to mention that there were no quotas at Erez to begin with, except those governing travel for “merchants” (a slightly deceiving title for individuals who are mainly involved in the purchase of goods that are brought into Gaza), and that the problem with travel isn’t just with the number of people traveling, but rather the strict criteria that determine who is entitled to travel.

    There was also talk of freer flow of goods through Kerem Shalom Crossing, but getting in more goods that are already permitted to enter won’t solve the problem. The focus should be on lifting restrictions on entrance of now very-badly-needed construction materials to Gaza, including the total prohibition on selling these to the private sector. “Freer flow” of goods must also include transport of Gaza-made and grown goods out of Gaza to its once primary markets in the West Bank and Israel.

    For several years, Israel has effectively banned all imports out of Gaza. Last month Gisha published a position paper calling for an end to the “civilian closure” of Gaza and the policy of separation between Gaza and the occupied West Bank. The paper states:

    Lifting the closure would make normal life possible: students from Gaza would be able to study in universities in the West Bank; construction workers would be able to make a living and rehabilitate Gaza; individuals would be able to reunite with relatives they have not seen for years, businessmen and women would be able to develop their businesses and access professional opportunities; farmers would be able to sell their produce and provide for their families. Improving conditions for the civilian population in Gaza does not necessitate compromising Israel’s security needs. On the contrary, in the long run, it is the only way to achieve sustainable security in the region.

    In today’s statement, Gisha says that “Top military and defense ministry officials” in Israel “have acknowledged the urgent need for rebuilding in Gaza,” but so far there is not much sign of change.

    “The delicate calm of the present has to be reinforced by a more long-term approach that would ensure the fighting doesn’t resume and gives real hope for a sustainable future,” Gisha says. But, the group argues, this fragile calm is jeopardized by the uncertainty over the crossings:

    The understandings that compose the ceasefire agreement must not remain shrouded in secrecy and known only to a select few – they affect the lives of each and every one of us. We have a right to know what has been agreed and what is being negotiated. The negotiating parties have a duty to report to the public, which sent them to stop the killing and destruction and forge a better path forward.

    No foregone conclusion

    What I take away from this is that an end to the siege, or even a substantial easing of the prison regime Israel imposes on Gaza, is not a foregone conclusion.

    Gaza has dropped out of world headlines – despite the scale of the ongoing human catastrophe there, the BBC, for instance, effectively has a news blackout on the situation in Gaza.

    The so-called “international community,” which has never been keen to put pressure on Israel, is now preoccupied by the renewed American-led war effort in Iraq and Syria.

    Absent international pressure, Israeli politicians, egged on by a hardline public, will likely remain rejectionist about ending the siege.

    Meanwhile, the fragile front of Palestinian “national unity” is threatened by the increasingly unhinged statements of Palestinian Authority de facto leader Mahmoud Abbas, who continues to treat the Palestinian resistance as his enemy, while maintaining his “sacred” collaboration with the Israeli army that devastated Gaza.

    As the Palestine Papers revealed four years ago, the Abbas-run Western-backed Palestinian Authority supported the siege of Gaza from the beginning. Abbas’ continuing sabotage can only weaken the Palestinian position in advance of the Cairo talks.

    For the global Palestine solidarity movement, the message is clear: heed the calls from Palestinians in Gaza to maintain and escalate campaigns directed at Israel and its sponsors as well as at Egypt to end the siege once and for all.

    September 12 – 13, 2014
    Gaza “Wall of Shame” at Fighting BobFest

    We will be displaying the Gaza “Wall of Shame” at the entrance to the BobFest events this weekend, both Friday, September 12 at the Barrymore, beginning around 6 pm, and Saturday, September 13 at the Sauk County Fairgrounds in Baraboo, beginning around 8:30 am.

    The wall is four large panels of pictures from the Gaza assault, plus a sign and leaflets asking why progressive icons (and BobFest featured speakers) Senators Baldwin and Sanders voted, along with the entire US Senate, to give Israel a green light to slaughter the people of Gaza.

    We will have Free Gaza stickers to hand out to participants to show their solidarity, and will be staffing a table in Baraboo. We have informed organizers of our intentions.

    40 Holocaust survivors condemn ‘massacre’ of Palestinians, call for BDS against Israel

    Alex Kane, Mondoweiss, August 26, 2014

    Holocaust survivors printed an ad in the New York Times condemning Israel’s attacks on Gaza. (Photo: Alex Kane)

    A group of Holocaust survivors and descendants of those targeted by Nazi Germany have harshly criticized Israeli actions in Gaza and called for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

    Following a letter from survivors of the Holocaust printed in the New York Times on Saturday, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, which helped coordinate the letter, organized a press call Monday, where some of those who signed the letter spoke out against the assault on Gaza.

    Participants in the press call included Edith Bell, whose parents died in concentration camps and who was taken to four camps herself; Suzanne Weiss, whose mother was murdered in Auschwitz and who was hidden by French peasants; and Liliane Kaczerginski, whose father Schmerke was a Jewish fighter against the Nazis in Lithuania. Also joining the call were Monadel Herzallah and Hani Jamah, two Palestinians with family in Gaza who expressed appreciation at the descendants’ and survivors’ efforts.

    40 survivors of the Holocaust signed the letter and 287 descendants of victims also added their names.

    “I resent anybody who will use those events as an excuse to exterminate Palestinians,” said Bell, who said she survived concentration camps by “pure luck.”

    The letter printed in the New York Times has garnered international media attention from the likes of the BBC and Ha’aretz. “As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine,” the letter says. “We call for an immediate end to the siege against and blockade of Gaza. We call for the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. ‘Never again’ must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!”

    The advertisement cost $18,000. The funds were raised by some of the signatories.

    “I applaud your courage for doing such a statement like that, that speaks from the heart,” said Herzallah, a member of the US Palestinian Community Network whose family was expelled from what is now Israel into Gaza. “I’m not surprised when I see these courageous statements by Holocaust survivors and their families…Our children and grandchildren will learn together in Gaza and all over Palestine that never again truly means never again for anyone.

    The impetus for the letter came from Holocaust survivors and descendants of victims of the Nazis who were outraged that Israel used their histories to justify assaults on Palestinians. One of the signatories who helped organize the letter was Dr. Hajo Meyer, a German-Dutch physicist who survived Auschwitz and who died the day before the letter was printed in the Times. Meyer was an outspoken critic of Israel, telling the Electronic Intifada that he “had to quit grammar school in Bielefeld after the Kristallnacht…Therefore, I can fully identify with the Palestinian youth that are hampered in their education. And I can in no way identify with the criminals who make it impossible for Palestinian youth to be educated.”

    The letter calls out Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who was the author of another advertisement that ran in the New York Times calling on Hamas to reject “child sacrifice” and casting the Israel/Palestine conflict as a “battle of civilization against barbarism.”

    “Reading the Elie Wiesel ad made me literally sick to my stomach,” said Maia Ettinger, whose mother and grandmother survived the Holocaust by escaping the Warsaw ghetto. “The ad is an act of towering and transparent projection because what is barbaric is collective punishment, and what is barbaric is indiscriminate bombing.”

    The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network says that much of the response they have received has been positive, though there have been violent messages sent to their e-mail address. +972 Magazine’s Ami Kaufman reported that some Israelis have expressed revulsion at the letter on Facebook.

    “It’s a shame Hitler didn’t finish the job,” one Israeli named Asher Solomon said, while another, Katy Morali, added that “Holocaust survivors who think like this are invited to go die in the gas chambers.”

    Correction: This article originally reported 47 Holocaust survivors had signed the letter. The actual number is 40.

    Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane. Other posts by .